Northern Alberta Renal Program’s dialysis bus returns quality of life to patients

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Nine months ago, Brandy MacPhee was leading a life that no 25-year-old should be leading. Living with a condition called glomerulonephritis, a disease of the kidneys in which the glomeruli, the tiny filters in the kidneys that help to clean the blood, become inflamed or damaged, Brandy was travelling 360 kilometres, three times a week, from Whitecourt to Edmonton to receive dialysis treatment.

MacPhee was diagnosed with the disease when she was just nine years old, and had received a kidney transplant in 1996 following her first round of dialysis treatment. However, several years later the disease came back and she once again needed to make the long trips to Edmonton to receive her dialysis treatment. She is also back on the transplant waiting list. “Three days a week, my dad or another family member or friend, would drive me into Edmonton for my treatments,” MacPhee says. “I was put on the evening round to help accommodate my dad’s work schedule, which meant we weren’t getting home until midnight. Most times I couldn’t stay for my entire treatment because it would be far too late by the time I was finished. Your body notices the difference when you don’t receive your complete treatment, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.” MacPhee would sleep the next day away, while her dad was up again at 4:00 a.m. for work. Her dialysis treatment was not only affecting her life, it had an impact on her entire family.

In January 2008, the MacPhee family received much-anticipated news: the Northern Alberta Renal Program’s (NARP) dialysis bus was officially ready to hit the road, and Whitecourt was one of the two locations it would serve. After a long wait, MacPhee was relieved the bus was finally ready to go, and that she was one of the patients to receive dialysis treatment on the state-of-the-art converted motor coach. “I live five minutes away from the hospital, so I can go to my treatments on my own without needing my family or friends to help me out,” says MacPhee. “Dialysis is tiring. When I’m done my treatments I just want to go home and to bed, or lie on the couch and relax. I couldn’t do that before, I’d have to sit in the truck for a two-hour drive home. Now, within five minutes I know I’ll be home.”

When MacPhee started her dialysis treatments on the bus, she was finally able to stay for the entire treatment. Within one month, her doctors were noticing a positive change in her blood work. MacPhee feels that once she started her treatments on the dialysis bus, she started experiencing a “total turnaround” in her results because of her ability to stay for the full treatment.

“I can’t say enough about how positive the bus has been for me and my family,” MacPhee says. “I can get out the next day and actually spend time with my family and friends, and try to enjoy my life. It’s just a lot better, because I don’t have to travel to Edmonton anymore. It’s comforting to know I’m so close to home when I’m feeling as drained as I do after treatment.”

When MacPhee heard about the bus, she wasn’t too sure what to think about it. Was it a converted school bus? What would it look like? When she finally saw the vehicle she’d be dialyzing in, she had one thought. “It’s just awesome,” she says. “I was surprised by what it looked like, inside and out. It’s pretty snazzy.” MacPhee also says that her experience on the bus feels more personal than her time in the hospital dialysis units, because of the consistency of the nursing staff and her ability to get to know them.

MacPhee’s story is like many of the Northern Alberta Renal Program’s rural patients, who travel hundreds of kilometers throughout the week to receive their life-saving treatments. The dialysis bus has been successfully meeting the needs of eight patients in Whitecourt and Hinton, and the impact has been positive.

“We forged ahead with the creation of the dialysis bus because of the need for better access to dialysis care in some of the rural areas, making Hinton and Whitecourt the first locations for our bus,” explains Deb Gordon, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, University of Alberta Hospital, Stollery Children’s Hospital and Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute. “It’s great to hear stories about how the bus has truly changed the quality of life for some of our patients and their families.”